Friday, March 20, 2009

little Sowmya at Karunya Mane

Little Sowmya, who hangs out on the street while her mom Girija begs, just came to Karunya Mane. Sowmya's older brother Surya is also at KM, and she wanted to join him before school started next year.


It took her a couple of weeks to get adjusted to being at KM, and hangs close to brother Surya, but she's now integrating well and playing with the other kids her age. She'll start school next June, along with the other kids.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Creative fundraising

Recently, an Operation Shanti friend told us about her effort to do some fundraising for us in today's tough economic environment. We found her idea creative and personal to her, and wanted to share it with you.

From Jules:

I learned of Operation Shanti when I was in Mysore this past year. And held on to a desire to be connected to the mission.

In NY, I teach several forms or yoga at a beautiful studio called The Yoga Room ( Prenatal yoga among them. For some time, I've been trying to encourage my Prenatal Yoga students to develop a simple home practice in the form of a simple sequence called cat/cow, which is very beneficial for most pregnant women. But I had little impact in effecting this.

Then, two weeks ago I conceived of this plan: I committed a dollar to Operation Shanti for each time a pregnant woman in my class practiced cat/cow in between the times I saw them. I told them of the mission of Operation Shanti -- and how far a dollar can go in clothing, feeding and educating a child in India. Well! We have had 42 'instances' of cat/cow home practice in a little over two weeks! When I hit 50 instances ($50 dollars) I'll go contribute thru your website. I expect that will be this weekend.

I'm thrilled with the success of this new program, and plan to seek corporate sponsorship so I might continue it. If any of your staff has connections with anyone at magazines such as Fit Pregnancy or (dreaming big) a contact at Oprah's O magazine or the like, an intro would be stellar and mutually beneficial! I'll be reaching out to a broad network seeking just such introductions as well.

If anyone there would like to discuss this program with me, I would be happy to hear from you.

Thank you for the inspiration and all you are doing.

Peace & joy - Jules

She's starting small, thinking big, and being persistent. And we get "personalized" support like this in both big and small ways. Recently, Kendra and Ryan arrived from San Francisco to volunteer at Karunya Mane. While in San Francisco, they took the initiative to hold a fundraiser and collected art supplies, kids' clothing, and other useful items for our kids at Karunya Mane. Every little bit counts, and our kids and moms really appreciate any effort that you make--especially when it is related to something personal to you.

And by the way, the cat/cow $50 translates into about 2400 rupees, enough to feed our kids three healthy meals for three whole days. Or, it can be used to provide protein powder to an anorexic and destitute street woman for eight months.


Monday, March 9, 2009

New family in our Street People Program

We've got a new family in our Street People Program, little Zaidu, mom Shahina, and brothers Ruman and Salman.

Shahina and her kids live on the streets of Mysore, and we've known them for about a year and a half. She is the second wife of a man who has another wife and family, so she is not allowed in the house. She earns money by begging and selling vegetables on the roadside, and often battles a few health issues.

after seeing their new house

Recently, we told Shahina that we'd help her find a house to rent, so that she and kids can at least go home to shelter at night. We had originally told her that if she puts her older boy (Ruman) into a shelter---where her fourth child, a girl, stays---we'd help her find a house. Mom clearly wanted him off the street, as he has not had an education and does odd jobs at restaurants in the area for money, but Ruman is already 11 years old and it became clear that he was not willing to leave his life on the street.

Zaidu in the doorway of his new house

This past week, Shahina found a place to rent in the neighborhood where our other street women rent houses. In a week, she and kids will move there. For more on our Street People Program, please see our website here.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Spotlight on (and goodbye to) a volunteer -- "Kim Madam Kim Madam!"

Kim came to Mysore in 2006 to practice yoga and to volunteer at a charity. She started with Operation Shanti in the fall of 2006, and helped our kids and moms for two years, until mid-2008. Now, Kim is leaving Mysore for the "greener pastures" of Argentina, and we thought that we'd, along with our kids and moms, say goodbye to her and thank her for all of her contributions to our work. There were many.

with Pallavi, Apu, and Latta in our Street People Program in 2006

Kim started out volunteering with our street kids and moms, and she was involved with just about everything that we do -- from teaching our little kids their ABCs...

with Jyothi, Parveen, and Pallavi in early 2007 making monthly visits to the kids that we had placed in a residential school...

with Chumi, mom Kumari, and Venkatesh -- JSS Suttur 2007

...and to teaching yoga to our kids on Sundays.

Pallavi, Latta, Prema, Antony, Raguvendra, Nanjunda doing sun salutations

Kim also helped with taking our women and kids to the doctor when they got sick, made friends with the friendly ENT doctor who did Prema's ear operations, and gave it to the nasty doctor at Cheluvamba who insulted and abused one of our moms who had gone for  birth control advice.

Kim says, "There were many beautiful, heart-warming (and sometimes hilarious!) moments while I worked with Operation Shanti; however, to have witnessed how far the kids and moms have come over the past few years is the best overall experience. It's wonderful to see many of our kids now off the streets and living in Karunya Mane, a safe shelter where they're healthy, happy, thriving and getting a good education. And some of the moms have worked so hard and empowered themselves to turn their lives around by leaving dangerous and abusive domestic situations, for example. Now they're leading more peaceful and productive lives, taking excellent care of themselves and their children, and giving themselves the chance of a better future."

On the difficult times as a volunteer: "Definitely the most difficult part of volunteering for Operation Shanti was working with the terminally ill in our program--sadly watching them suffer while their lives slipped away, and then eventually saying goodbye. It was also challenging, and oftentimes maddening, to work within a system and a society that for the most part turns its back on the destitute--especially destitute women. To watch how inhumanely the poor can be treated here is just as sad and tragic as watching them die."

Recently, Kim paid a visit to the kids who are now at Karunya Mane to say goodbye before she leaves Mysore. Many of them remembered her fondly. When Prema saw Kim, she ran to her brother Venkatesh and said, "Kim madam! Kim madam!"

with little Vishnu

Even little Vishnu remembered Kim. She took him to the dentist after she noticed that his two front teeth had started rotting (mom was feeding him milk at night to help him sleep but often forgot to brush his teeth afterwards), and they spent quality time together during their several visits to the dentist.

And, what does Kim take with her to her next adventure from Operation Shanti and India? "All of the following but now to a greater degree: patience, tolerance, unconditional love, compassion, empathy, an open heart, and the joy in life's simple things."

Thursday, March 5, 2009

March Inspection Notes

Notes from our Madam Inspector Anu, who visited Karunya Mane this month (and a few notes from her November visit)... She continues to do a fabulous job talking with our kids about life issues.

March Visit
Since it's almost exam time, Anu spoke to the kids about working really hard during this last month of school, particularly in subjects in which they do not yet score full marks, like English. Anu said that Harish, Prema, Asha, Pooja, and Kaleem are confident in math and Kannada. All of the kids unanimously chose Pooja as the best among them! They said that everything is easy for Pooja and that she scores the highest marks in all subjects.

Here's Pooja at a recent school dance program (in the black dress):

Anu then explained that there are two reason for them to study hard and be on their best behavior: 

a) They must try their best to be promoted to the next level, but they should not cry if they are made to repeat, as it just means they did not work hard enough and they should try again, and 

b) If they behave badly and are lazy in studies, they won't be allowed to go on the special outing during the summer (April/May). We are big on teaching our kids that there are consequences to our actions.

Anu noted that Prema is making real progress and now pays attention and participates. This is in contrast to her behavior earlier, when she fidgeted a lot and had no attention span.

Anu then explained that some kids will be allowed to go home for up to five days after school finishes. She then asked what the boys did the last time they went home. Nanjunda and Venkatesh admitted that they spent the time on the street, so Anu reminded them that they are not "street kids" anymore and should not venture into that environment.

The kids who do not have parents understood that KM is their home and that they will remain with us throughout the summer. Harish, whose mom passed away in November, nodded his head in agreement.

November Visit
In November (sorry for the delay), Anu had a nice talk with the kids about bodily fluids, germs, and diseases. So what happens if someone has a fall or a scrape or an accident? Whenever possible, she said, try to wear gloves, and if this is not possible or if they come in contact with blood accidentally, wash it of immediately with soap. 

Anu then talked about the many diseases that spread through blood and that everyone must be extremely careful not to touch any body's blood. The other germ-bearing body fluids like saliva, urine, and poop are also dangerous and spread disease. 

She then emphasized that, as much as we should not touch others' body fluids and excretions, we should be careful in disposing our own. "See that the toilet is clean after finishing a pee or poop!" She explained that if we mess the toilet as she does many times (!), clean it with a stick broom, pour water, and then check that the area is clean for the next person to use. 

Then Anu asked them about bad habits. The kids listed some bad habits, like smoking, drinking, chewing pan parag (tobacco chew), gambling, and sniffing glue. She explained that such bad habits affect our thinking and reasoning. The brain, which is smarter than a computer, begins to spoil and starts working badly, making people do bad things. Bad habits makes people addicted and then they go to any length to get the money to drink. They will even sell their belongings and loved ones. 

She told them a story about a girl who was sold by her father because he was a drunk and needed money. Our kids were wide-eyed and said that was very bad. The moral of the story was that addiction makes people do unreasonable and wicked things to those around them, including their loved ones. She asked them if they had seen drunk men beat up their wives? Many of them raised their hands. She asked them why the men do not beat other men instead of their wives? Sreenevasa and Lokesh said it's because other men would beat them back, whereas their wives take all the beatings. Sreenevasa said, "Poor wife will be waiting for her husband, she will have cooked for him and he comes home and beats her!" 

Anu then asked the kids who had indulged in any bad habits and they all pointed to Manikanta(!). Manikanta said that he used to sniff glue, and also said he would not do it again. I explained to them that drinking will spoil their livers and kidneys, and they could die. Nanjunda and Harish nodding in agreement. Both lost their moms in 2008 to alcoholism.

Anu then asked which kids still hit each other ("oh my God, you still do that?"). Prema, Harish, Asha, and Lokesh raised their hands. She explained that we should use our body parts like hands, legs, mouth, brain, to do positive things and not to hit, kick, speak badly or do badly  to others. God lives within each person and when we beat another, we are disrespecting Him. Usually, the big sibling hits the little sibling, and Anu was thoroughly amused at their total honesty in their confessions. She then asked them to promise never to hit one another ever again. And they did ("Ha ha, we'll have to see on that one!").

Anu closed by talking about the many kinds of people in the world, some good, some not so good, and some people even influence others to make wrong choices and do things that are not good. So how do we decide what is good for us and what is not? The older kids said we should think and use our brains (!) and decide what is good for us and what is not. 

(Our older kids are quite grown up and know a lot.)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

More art supplies

Thanks to the dedicated effort of Tracy and Ray, their supply of arts and crafts materials -- crayons, color pencils, glue, paints, papers of all kinds and much more -- gathered from generous donors throughout the year arrived at Karunya Mane.

Some of the stuff they brought!

The kids are really enjoying their Sunday projects with our current volunteers Sara, Jen, and Ashley.

Ray helps Pallavi and Jyothi decorate the little stick figures with clothing and hair

Sara with her bunch of kids

Recently, the kids made these:

Jen with Manikanta and Prema